Saturday, October 24, 2009

Great images: Describing Roy Orbison's voice--or a smooth wine.

As writers, we always appreciate a well-turned phrase.

I'm reading the Wikipedia entry for Roy Orbison, and at one point they quote various singers attempting to describe what most referred to as his "operatic" voice -- some of these images are amazing:

*Roy Orbison's voice*
Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel both commented on the otherworldy quality of Orbison's voice; a particularly poetic comparison was Dwight Yoakam's, who stated Orbison's voice sounded like "the cry of an angel falling backward through an open window". Barry Gibb of The Bee Gees went further to say that when he heard "Crying" for the first time, "That was it. To me that was the voice of God."

Bob Dylan marked Orbison as a specific influence, stating that there was nothing like him on radio in the early 1960s:

"With Roy, you didn't know if you were listening to mariachi or opera. He kept you on your toes. With him, it was all about fat and blood. He sounded like he was singing from an Olympian mountaintop. [After "Ooby Dooby"] (h)e was now singing his compositions in three or four octaves that made you want to drive your car over a cliff. He sang like a professional criminal... His voice could jar a corpse, always leave you muttering to yourself something like, 'Man, I don't believe it'."

Angel falling backwards. Drive your car over a cliff. "He sang like a professional criminal." -- I don't even know what that *means* yet it stuns me!

Sigh.... Reminds me of a phrase the Europeans sometimes use when describing a particularly smooth wine, a phrase that is so weird it could only have been dreamed up in another language: "Prior to the French Revolution, the Vigne de l'Enfant Jesus vineyard [Beaune-Greves, Burgundy] belonged to an order of Carmelite nuns especially devoted to the Infant Jesus. Legend has it that the nuns were so enamored of the wine's silky texture that they exclaimed, 'It slips down the throat as easily as the Infant Jesus in velvet pants.' " You still hear this phrase at trade tastings; I just hear an Italian winemaker say it the other day.

mac mccarthy

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Bottling Time at New Jersey's 40 Wineries

This little video takes you to one of New Jersey's 40 wineries -- yes, that's 40 -- where the harvest should just have ended.

It's bottling season at New Jersey’s Alba Vineyard

An article on the Web site describes the newly burgeoning Jersey winegrowing scene, in an article about how the recent bad weather there is creating a problem for the 2009 vintage.

The 2009 New Jersey wine vintage. A phrase I never thought I'd hear, and I'm from South Jersey!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Wine Advice for a 27-Year-Old

My friend Steve Drace wrote to ask me what I'd recommend in the way of wines for an event being hosted by his son, who is 27 and unfamiliar with wines. My response could be helpful as a starting point for the youths in your family who are just starting out!


Fortunately, wines for 27-year-olds are easy to find and tend to be inexpensive, especially if we're talking about untrained palates, who will prefer flavorful wines low in tannins (and lower in alcohol too).

There are several strategies here. Pick one.

Strategy 1: The best selling and least expensive wines in the supermarket or BevMo tend to be easy to drink, which is why they are so popular. You can just buy bottles with very familiar names, especially ones you've always heard are for unsophisticated palates. They actually taste good and tend to be low in tannins. Their biggest sin is most likely to be bland taste, but only for some of them.

Examples: Toasted Head, Kendal Jackson, J. Lohr, Beringer, Bogle, Acacia, Ch. St Jean, Edna Valley. Look for Merlots and Pinots, and fewer Cabs because Cabs can be too big for new palates (or, done badly, too awful). Also of course lots of whites.

You could pick up six or eight bottles of plonk and have a mini-tasting at home with the hosts, motor through the bottles, pick the ones they liked best, and buy enough bottles of that subset to do the job. (This also works especialliy well for Two-Buck Chuck--that is, Charles Shaw, at Trader Joe's -- which offers three or four wine styles at any given moment.)

Strategy 2: Drop by your nearest BevMo and tell the clerk what you're doing: Buying inexpensive and inoffensive BUT TASTY wines for inexperienced drinkers in their late 20s. Many BevMos have clerks who actually know what they're talking about. Not all, though, so don't invest heavily without testing.

Strategy 3: Target has wine, as you may know. They currently have a shelf labeled "12 wines for under 12 bucks." Happily, each bin of wine has a callout that says how much tannin and oak they have. Pick the ones that are lower in tannin, lower in oak, and higher in flavor.

Mac's Favs: Trader Joe's Nero d'Avolo I love. I like Rosemount Shiraz's and Yellow Tail's many wines (Trader Joe's and BevMo, about ten bucks). Bonny Doons can be fun, especially their whites. Try some Italians: Chianti is easy to drink, and some of their whites are tasty, and Valpolicella is hard to pass up. Coppola is highly variable depending on the exact label: His "Rosso" blend was terrific and under $10. Beaujolais are nice if you can get them cheap (at TJ's for example). I like Folie a Deux's Menage a Trois blend, around ten bucks. J. Lohr once made something they called Wildflower, cheap; delicious! Haven't seen it in a while. I liked Trader Joe's French Classic Cab (not the merlot) that I got a few years ago for $3; surprisingly tasty. J.W. Morris, a Trader Joe brand, makes delicious Chenin Blanc (white) and Gewurztraminer and Reisling, for $3.99 (Four-Buck Chuck?). You should be getting some of them for yourself, the heck with the kid! Ca'Na at BevMo for three bucks is unbelievable at any price, let alone that one, but I understand they sold that out. Keep an eye out anyway, just in case.

I have lots of others on my list but they start to get real pricey from here out, so we'll skip that.

And if you're attending, get one bottle of something really good for yourself, and nurse it. An R&B Cab, one of the Rosenblum black-label Zins, a JC Cellars Syrah, a Rock Wall anything.

Hope any of this helps!

Good luck! Keep track of what you end up doing and how it turns out and let me know -- I'd like to post your experience to our SavvyTaste web site, since this is exactly the situation a lot of people face from time to time, and every guide is a good guide.



Of course, he didn't! Sigh!

Pompous Twits tasting: "Weird But Wonderful!"

I said I was behind on my posts, but this is ridiculous! I was plowing through my files for materials from some recent tastings and I came across this unposted report on a fun tasting we did for my other wine group, The Pompous Twits (of Hayward, CA and environs).

The theme was "Weird but Wonderful!" and we were encouraged to bring our most unusual bottle -- whether the grape or the nationality or the blend or the name, bring something we haven't seen before.

And the 11 attending Twits responded memorably! Here is my report from February 2005.

Eleven of us gathered at the newly relaunched Rue de Main in Hayward on Saturday February 21st for this new BYOB event. We tasted 17 wines, most of which fit the Weird classification, some of which even arose to the Wonderful category. Here is a summary, as best Mac was able to copy down the names.

First, two introductory "pump primer" champagnes to get us in the right mood. And it worked!

1. Mumm Cuvee Napa Sparkling Pinot Noir - The Pinot added a nice fruity note to this champagne!

2. Frank Variville 1996 Grand Cru Champagne Brut, brought by Dave Hulet. Very nice!

3. Champagne Le Nombre d'Or, L'Aubrey Fil a Jouy-les-Reims - this was Dave's first contribution to the Weird category -and I thought it was pretty wonderful!

4. Kinneskillan 01 Pinot Noire Okanagan, from somewhere in Canada. Oh dear! Very amusingly weird!

5. Volcano Winery Macademia Nut Honey Wine, Hawaii -- really a nice mildly sweet dessert wine. From Canada to Hawaii in two bottles!

6. Domaine de Belliviere - Le Rouge-Gorge-Coteaux du Loir 2002 - a red of unusual grapage. Interesting! Only $20 said Dave!

7. Saint Gregory Mendocino Pinot Meunier 2002 - Nice sweet undercurrent to this one.

8. Creston Vineyards 1995 Pinot Noir Paso Robles. Hmm. Some people liked it!

9. Grgic Plavac Mali 1996 Croatia - made by the same Grngch as here in California, but from a grape that is a precursor to Zin, we're told.

10. Imagery Series, International Imagery Red Table Wine - no year - A blend of wines from around the world. Corked, unfortunately. That could have been fun.

11. Finca Sandoval Manchuela 2002 - A Syrah of some sort from Spain.

12. Topolos Sonoma Alicante Bouschet 1997. A nice light Alicante.

13. Pine Ridge Onyx 99 Napa Rutherford - a Malbec-Merlot-Tannat blend. Not the most common blend in the world -- I'll bet some of you have never (knowingly) even tasted a Tannat!

14. Souzao 1996 from Bonny Doon -- the Portuguese port grape has here been transformed into a table wine -- interesting dense!

15. Tradition (?) Tiara Rhone Reserve diVieux Cardinal - a declassified French vineyard. And for a reason, too!

We finished up with a couple of regular wines to end our most interesting evening:

16. Ridge Pajano Ranch 1997 Zin

17. Retzlaff 2003 Merlot (newly bottled)

A most curious and entertaining evening, I think, and one that should

BAWDY: Old Cabs/Old Bordeaux Tasting

I'm catching up on past tastings, as you will see. This was a February 2009 tasting of one of my wine groups, BAWDY ("Bay Area Wine Drinkers and-a-Y"). Hosted by Brian and Jill Oana at their Alameda CA home, the theme they chose for this BYOB was "OLD CABS/OLD BORDEAUX."

Well, who's going to miss a thing like that??

Of course, this means "old" in affordable terms -- we're not rich and our cellars are relatively lacking in age-depth. But here's what we 20 or so people came up with -- and a remark by me about the ones that jumped out at me. If I didn't remark on it, I either didn't get to taste it, or I don't remember it.

Here they are, listed by age:

1974 Inglenook Cab Limited Cask A-3, Napa
--over the hill but not awful

1986 Simi Cab Commemorative Edition, Alexander Valley

1991 Cline Mourvedre, Contra Costa County (CA)

1995 Chateau Clerc Milon Grand Cru, Pauillac
--very good

1995 Sterling Vineyard Reserve Cab blend, Napa

1996 Lolonis Cab, Redwood Valley, Mendocino

1997 Kiona Cab, Washington State

1997 Inniskillin Gamay Noir, Niagara Peninsula
--a whaaa? but tasty!

1998 BV Rutherford Cab, Napa
--outstanding -- no surprise!

2000 D’Agostini Cab, Alexander Vly

2000 Close Du Bois Merlot, Sonoma
--very good

2001 White Oak Cab blend, Napa

2001 William Hill Reserve Cab, Napa

2002 Retzlaff Cab, Livermore Vly

2002 St. Supery Cab, Napa

2003 Mount Eden Vineyard Cab blend, Santa Cruz Mtns

2005 L’Ecole No 41 Perigee Seven Hills Cab blend, Walla Walla, Washington
--this is supposed to be fab, but I didn't get to taste it, darn it.

2005 Rodrigue Molyneaux Cab, Livermore CA

2006 Chateau Haut-Sorillon, Bordeaux Superieur

2006 Educated Guess Cab, Napa

2006 Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz-Cab, S. Australia

2006 St. Francis, Chard, Sonoma

2006 DeCanal Montepulciano D’Abruzzo (unopened--just too many wines!)

2007 Robert Mondavi Private Select Cab, Calif.

Great evening!

Taster's Guild: Monticello Vineyards Pairing

Taster's Guild is a wine-and-food pairing club, with chapters around the country -- the San Francisco East Bay Area chapter, "Diablo," run by Gail and John Engstrom of Dublin, hosted the April pairing at a new location, Stacey's at Waterford, a midlevel restaurant (entrees $20-$30) known locally for being owned by the wife of Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams. This was our first time at Stacey's, and it won't be our last, judging from the wonderful food they served.

The winery host was Corley Family Monticello Vineyards, Napa Valley, who brought eight of their best examples of the vintner's art, which young Executive Chef Cody Cost matched up with his cuisine. The results were moan-inducing good.

The 2006 Estate Grown Chardonnay ($28) and 06 Corley Reserve Chard ($40) were served with butter-poached lobster with shellfish reduction, and pan-seared sea scallops with green-pear puree. Delicious. Actually, it was the warm garlic breadsticks that really showed the Corley Reserve Chard to its best advantage - surprising, huh?

Then we had wild-mushroom risotto along with a pancetto-wrapped trumpet mushroom topped with pinot-noir beef broth, paired with an 06 Estate Grown Pinot Noir ($58) and an 06 Estate Grown Cab Franc ($38). The risotto was delicious; I don't like mushroom, sorry, so I skipped that. The pinot followed the classic archtype: light yet very flavorful. The cab franc was very good too; I find cab francs highly variable, so it was a relief that this one tasted so good. It was, in fact, very like a good cab sauvignon.

Next up was the hit of the night: Crispy lechon-style pork belly with dark-cherry glaze, and Vermont duck confit with blackberry compote with sweet reduction (I don't know what a sweet reduction is, do you?). I swear there were people all around me moaning with stunned pleasure at this pair of foods. They were so rich and intensely flavorful -- especially the pork belly -- that we knew we were killing ourselves even faster than usual -- and we didn't care! The wine pairing could not have been more perfect, either: an 06 Estate Grown Syrah ($38) and an 05 Corley Proprietary Red ($85 -- 56% Cab Franc, 28% Merlot, 10% Syrah, and 10% Cab S.). Sweet Mother of God! These dense, dark-fruit, intense wines went toe-to-toe with the densely flavorful fats and they fought each other to a delicious standstill. It will be a long time before I taste the likes of that again!

Finally they served a petite filet mignon, sliced medium-rare over tiny cubes of butter-braised purple potatoes, on top of crisp broccolini, with a cab-bacon reduction and rich porcini demi-glace over the whole thing. This was also over-the-top delicious -- sorry, I'm a potatoes guy, so I really focussed especially on those odd-looking purple potato cubes, which had enough butter in them to satisfy even me. I finally couldn't take it any more -- I had to have them box up the steak to take home to my daughter -- I had just eaten too much astonishing, rich food at one sitting and had to take a breather. Wow!

The wine accompanying this last entre was an 06 Jefferson Cuvee Cab Sauvignon, which is currently sold out in this vintage, and an 05 Corley Reserve Cab, $65. Both were terrific.

We ended with blood-orange creme brulee (shot with white-chocolate crisp) and a broken-dark-chocolate tote with espresso cocoa glaze, accompanied, fortunately (for we were fully wine up by now) by coffee.

Well, I hardly know which deserve the greater raves, the chef or the winemaker. This was another astonishing performance by the Taster's Guild people. Each wine was terrific -- even the Chards were notable, and I'm not much of a whites guy. Not a loser in the bunch. And Stacey's knocked our socks off. We couldn't believe, when he came out for our accolades, that a chef that young-seeming (25?) could be that creative and inventive, and capable of reaching such heights of flavor.

Lord! What a meal!

So, recommendations: Corley/Monticello is one of those smallish wineries you're lucky to be able to find, so try them online or through your wine merchant. Stacey's restaurant is sensational!

And the real lesson is this: If you want a monthly visit from the food and wine gods, find a Taster's Guild near you. Not only did we have a fantastic meal, but we drank wines that would normally be well beyond my regular wine budget, and in some cases wines that are hard to find or even sold out. The whole evening cost me $65, which is a lot -- but only a fraction of what we got for the money!

Stacey's Closes One of Its Two!

Since this tasting a few months ago, Stacey's had to close its Waterford location -- a crime of the recession. Stacey's original location is still operating in downtown Pleasanton CA, worth a look.

(We did discover, however, in attempting to get to Stacey's, that Google Maps has not a clue where 4500 Tassajara Road is in Dublin: From my desktop, Google Maps showed me a spot about six blocks north of where Stacey's actually is; after I drove up and down Tassajara for a while, I looked on the cell-phone version of Google Maps, and that one told me it was about a block south of where it turned out to be. That's the worst performance I've ever seen from Google Maps, and I can't guess the basis for the flaw -- Tassajara is a major street and runs straight from here to there. Oh well.)